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Aug 18, 2017

Oil Moratorium Becomes Law, but Has Anything Changed?

Dean Barrow

By its next session in October, a bill formally legislating the indefinite moratorium against offshore oil exploration activity should be before the House of Representatives. It is considered a major victory for environmental groups including OCEANA. But does this mean a complete ban on exploration of any kind in the future? The Prime Minister says no, because the door is still open for a petroleum find. He was also not willing to bind a future parliament on the issue.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Madam Speaker, I take great pleasure in announcing to the House and to the nation, that Cabinet, at its meeting on Tuesday, agreed to have prepared and bring to parliament a bill that would enshrine into law the moratorium against offshore oil exploration activity. No doubt people will recollect that this is already the policy of the Government, announced some months ago; perhaps as long ago as a year. But as a consequence of conversation with Oceana and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, Cabinet felt that the time has come to put the policy commitment into law. It makes no practical difference since under either regime there is not going to be any licenses granted for offshore oil exploration activities. But it certainly, I believe, gives comfort to those who require some comfort that this is a step beyond just the policy commitment. There’s no change. Remember that was where there was the rub. We agreed some time ago to a policy decision that there would be a moratorium. But there are those who wanted a permanent ban and I’ve always said that I am completely against that and I am still against that. A moratorium is a different thing; even though it is indefinite, the fact is that it is not permanent; it is not expressed to be permanent, so that you cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the future, clearly not in the near future, when technology has advanced, there might be very easy ways of determining whether we do have resources where some people think they might be without having to go through the process that the environmentalists object to that is the position now. And if that day ever comes – remember, and this is where I had to be sure that OCEANA and the Coalition were on the same page that I was – we can’t fetter parliament; we can’t bind a future parliament. So when we passed the law, even if it is not expected to be permanent, they would have wanted us to say, well, even to lift the non-permanent ban you would need to go through certain steps and they talked about a referendum: you can’t do that; you can’t put in a bill that a future parliament will not be able to change this bill except there’s a referendum; no. that referendum position in the bill is a part of the bill that a future parliament can simply up-end.”

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